Snow White and The Search for Effective Word Choice: A Writing Center Fairy TaleSometimes, as Writing Instructors, we see a particular problem that seems pretty minor, but when it comes up a lot, we feel compelled to write about it nevertheless. Such is the case, I have noticed, with the word “including.”
The word “including” serves a specific function and should never be misused, or simply added for no reason. Literally, the word means “containing as part of a whole.” This is important to remember. Only use the word “including” when talking about a part of something, not the whole of something.
What do I mean? Let's take a look at some of my favorite characters from literature to find out.
You might see a sentence like this:
“Snow White lived with seven dwarfs, including Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Bashful, and Doc.”
This type of sentence makes me Grumpy. It doesn’t work because the author of this sentence is not writing a partial list of the seven dwarfs. The author, has, in fact, named every single member. Therefore, the word “including” does not belong and should be removed:
“Snow White lived with seven dwarfs: Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Bashful, and Doc.”
Now, if you were to provide only a partial list of the seven dwarfs, that would be different, and you would use the word “including”:
“Snow White lived with seven dwarfs, including Bashful and Doc.”
This is a partial list, and not a full list. So the word “including” is appropriate here.
I urge students to look at words like “including” carefully in sentences. Often they do not serve a point and can be easily removed with no damage to the meaning of the sentence. Most importantly, remember the word “including” only applies to a partial list, not a full list. If you want to make your reader Happy, practice precise and critical word choice in your next writing assignment.
Nathan Sacks is a writing instructor in the the Walden University Writing Center. He also enjoys writing books, playing guitar, and playing with cats. He's happy to answer your word choice questions in the comments.
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